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VOL. 125 | NO. 80 | Monday, April 26, 2010

Ames Plantation, Other Farms Seek New Revenue Streams

C. RICHARD COTTON | Special to The Daily News

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Dr. Allan Houston explains the difference between an acceptable deer antler, right, that meets the Boone & Crockett point minimum from an unacceptable antler, both from bucks killed on Ames Plantation.  Photo: C. Richard Cotton

GRAND JUNCTION, Tenn. – Ames Plantation is a good place for deer with its 18,430 acres straddling the Fayette-Hardeman county lines providing the right habitat to support a healthy deer herd.

And Ames is a great place for deer hunters, too. That same sprawling acreage provides ample opportunity to bag trophy deer.

Trophy deer, in fact, are what fuels the plantation’s deer management program, which has turned into a revenue-generating center for the place. Ames is a working model for rural landowners who want to increase the cash flow from their properties.

“We’re still looking for ways to increase revenue,” said Dr. Allan Houston, director of forestry and wildlife research at Ames.

He explained that with budget cuts – the University of Tennessee manages Ames in a long-term agreement with the Hobart Ames Foundation – the research center and farm would have to become more self-sufficient.

“We were getting $20,000 a year (from hunting) but thought we could do better,” Houston said.

From 1980 to a few years ago when the present club system was devised, hunters were asked to donate money for the privilege of hunting the grounds.

Adam Tullos, wildlife extension associate at the Mississippi State University Research and Extension Service, has worked with the Ames staff to set up the hunting program. He has also assisted other landowners wanting to get more than crops from their properties.

“We’re not trying to get people away from farming,” said Tullos. “People are wanting to earn more money from their land.”

Although the Ames effort centers on hunting revenues, Tullos said farmers and other landowners are exploring many different types of activities on their land, from trail riding to walking to bird watching.

“Demand for wildlife viewing is one of the fastest growing (outdoor activities) we have,” Tullos said.

He added that landowners can profit by also providing lodging since “people are looking to reconnect” to their farming childhoods.

Last hunting season at Ames, 89 hunters put up $1,630 each for the privilege of hunting Ames’ deer, much changed from the old pre-1980 days of just getting permission to hunt on the property. The deer club proceeds combined with the 30-member ($1,000 each) turkey hunting club monies, dove and quail hunts ($1,250 per gun) and other hunting activities brought in $250,000 to $300,000 in each of the last few seasons. The preferred number of 110 deer-club members didn’t materialize as in past years, said Houston, likely because of the recession.

It is important to note that Ames’ efforts are as much about sustaining a quality, healthy deer population as it is about killing the deer. For that reason, there are some important rules to follow as an Ames Plantation Deer Hunting Club member.

No. 1 is the age and size of the buck allowed to be taken.

“They leave the 1 1/2- and 2 1/2-year-old deer alone,” said Houston.

Those are allowed to grow to full maturity so the hunting focuses primarily on older bucks that usually sport large racks of antlers.

In fact, Ames hunters are prohibited from shooting bucks whose antlers don’t score at least 120 points on the Boone & Crockett rack rating system. If a killed buck turns out to have fewer points, fines are assessed – $250 to $350 per infraction, depending on how much smaller than the minimum the deer proves to be.

Anyone paying the fine also loses the chance to shoot a second buck; two is the limit but doe hunting is permitted on legal days. Houston said approximately 200 does are killed each year out of the Ames deer population he estimates at 1,000 animals. (The size of the total population is the subject of a current effort to install motion-triggered still cameras to photograph the animals when they come to salt licks set out in front of the lenses.)

When Bob Armstrong left Pocahontas, Tenn., and moved to Colorado, he promised his mother he would come home to Pocahontas every Thanksgiving. When the opportunity to join Ames’ club came, Armstrong jumped at it since that annual trip coincides with prime deer-hunting time.

“It’s been great,” said Armstrong. “The way Ames is set up was what I was looking for.”

Living 1,400 miles away limits his time scouting at Ames so Armstrong scouts through cyberspace; satellite images of Ames’ fields and forests viewed on Google Earth give Armstrong clues to where he should hunt.

“This year it worked out pretty good,” Armstrong said. “I got a 12-point that scored 147 on the second day, an eight-point that scored 120 and the mandatory doe so I got my limit.”

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